“Who’ll stop Derrane?”
Playing off the title of a Creedence Clearwater Revival hit song, button accordionist and poet Terence Winch said that to me as we and many others stood in awe of then 64-year-old Joe Derrane’s epic return — after 35 years — to Irish traditional music on the button accordion. The site was the Irish Folk Festival at Wolf Trap in Vienna, Va., and the date was May 29, 1994. Nothing before or since for me equaled the charged atmosphere and jaw-dropping amazement of that comeback, the greatest in the history of Irish traditional music.
Nothing has stopped Derrane since.
The accomplishments and accolades for the now 81-year-old, Boston-born button accordionist and composer (28 original tunes so far) quickly piled up and eventually eclipsed the hallowed reputation he forged as a button accordionist from 1946 to the mid-1950s. His post-comeback credits include seven albums, several guest appearances on CD’s by others, two film documentaries about him, tours in Germany and performances in Canada and Ireland, the hornpipe “Shop Street” composed by Galway box player Mairtin O’Connor in his honor, a guest spot with the Chieftains at Boston’s Symphony Hall, a performance for both the U.S. President and the Irish prime minister at the White House, induction into Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann’s hall of fame, selection for an unprecedented two times as Irish Echo Traditional Artist of the Year (1994 and 2010), and a National Heritage Fellowship, the ultimate recognition by the U.S. Government of a resident traditional musician.
But Derrane regards a more recent event as his dearest: the Nov. 13, 2010, concert held at the Fairfield Theatre Company in Fairfield, Conn., where his family and many of Irish traditional music’s finest performers convened in his honor. It was a spectacular night of music and dance. Humbled by the outpouring of admiration and affection, Derrane told the over-capacity audience that this tribute by his musical peers meant more to him than the National Heritage Fellowship.
Never before shown in public, film footage from that memorable “Concert for the Ages” will be part of “The Genius and Growing Impact of Joe Derrane,” a presentation and concert from 7 to 9 p.m. on Thurs., Sept. 22, in the Irish Room of the newly refurbished, nearly century-old, Gothic-style Gasson Hall on the main campus of Boston College, 140 Commonwealth Ave., Chestnut Hill, MA 02467. John McGann, a professor of strings at Boston’s Berklee College of Music and Derrane’s playing partner on three recordings, and I will be the featured presenters. Derrane will also speak at this event, which is free and open to the public, and both McGann and Clare-born fiddler Seamus Connolly will perform together in his honor.
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“The Genius and Growing Impact of Joe Derrane” will kick off the fall 2011 Gaelic Roots series of music, dance, and lectures under the direction of Seamus Connolly. Boston College’s Sullivan Artist-in-Residence, Connolly won an unsurpassed 10 All-Ireland solo fiddle championships and is himself an Irish Echo Traditional Artist of the Year recipient (2002).
The Gaelic Roots series retains the name of the highly prestigious and popular summer school and festival (1993-2003) founded and directed by Seamus Connolly. I emceed the first formal Gaelic Roots summer school concert, which was held in Gasson Hall, and also emceed a few subsequent summer school concerts held in B.C.’s Robsham Theater. The special Sept. 22, 2011, presentation/concert in Gasson Hall comes exactly five years after I gave a different presentation about Derrane, “Thinking Outside the Box,” in Boston College’s Connolly House. (To view and hear the latter, visit http://frontrow.bc.edu/program/hitchner/.)
Sponsoring the Gaelic Roots series is Boston College’s Center for Irish Programs, which also oversees B.C.’s Irish Studies, Irish Institute, Irish Collections in the John J. Burns Library (where the Irish Music Center, skillfully directed by Beth Sweeney, is also located), and Centre for Irish Programmes in Dublin. One of the elite college-based, Irish academic and cultural initiatives in the U.S., the Center for Irish Programs has been carefully guided by Executive Director and Professor of History Tom Hachey.
For more information about “The Genius and Growing Impact of Joe Derrane” on Sept. 22 and the rest of the Gaelic Roots fall 2011 schedule at Boston College, visit www.bc.edu/gaelicroots, e-mail [email protected], or phone 617-552-6396.
Upcoming CD from
former Derrane pupil
While majoring in music at Harvard University from 2005 to 2009, Rhinebeck, N.Y., button accordionist Dan Gurney took formal tutelage in Randolph, Mass., from Joe Derrane, whom he cites as one of his biggest influences. (Msgr. Charlie Coen, a gifted singer, concertinist, flutist, and tin whistle player from Galway who now resides in Greenville, N.Y., remains Gurney’s strongest earliest influence in Irish traditional music.)
In 2010, Harvard graduate Gurney received a university fellowship to refine his Irish traditional music talent in Galway, where he played a few gigs with singer Dolores Keane and regular sessions with bodhran master Johnny “Ringo” McDonagh, pianist/banjoist Brian McGrath, and others.
Not long ago, with McGrath backing him solely on piano, Gurney recorded 15 tracks in just three hours at Paul Gurney’s studio in Longford. The album should be released in the coming months.
At 9 p.m. on Dec. 2, Gurney will join fiddler Dylan Foley, uilleann piper and flutist Isaac Alderson, and guitar and bouzouki player Sean Ernest for a concert at New York University’s Glucksman Ireland House, 1 Washington Mews, NYC. Call 212-998-3950 for more information.
O’Sullivan and Stefanini also coming to Ireland House
At 9p.m. on Fri., Sept. 23, America’s premier uilleann piper in Irish traditional music, Jerry O’Sullivan, will give a concert with American old-timey fiddler and banjoist Rafe Stefanini. The music created by these two exceptional players retains the integrity of their individual genres while reaching an inspired connection between them. It should be great music and fun. They’ll be at New York University’s Glucksman Ireland House, 1 Washington Mews, NYC (212-998-3950).
16th annual CCE Irish Folk Festival in Virginia
The O’Neill-Malcom branch of Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann will host its 16th annual Irish Folk Festival on Sat., Sept. 24, in Fairfax, Va. Two venues in Fairfax will be used for this free-admission festival: Sherwood Community Center at Van Dyck Park, 3740 Old Lee Highway, and Auld Shebeen Irish Pub, 3971 Chain Bridge Rd. Among the scheduled performers will be Teada, Muinteori featuring Billy McComiskey and Brendan Mulvihill, Narrowbacks featuring Terence Winch, bodhran player Myron Bretholz, guitarist Zan McLeod, and members of the Old Bay Ceili Band. A free ceili is additionally slated from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. in the Sherwood Community Center. For
further information about this
rain-or-shine festival, visit www.ccepotomac.org.
Cathie Ryan to sing
in Chatham, N.J.
A former lead vocalist for Cherish the Ladies and a soloist with several albums to her credit, Cathie Ryan has been living mainly in Ireland for the past few years, but she still frequently performs in the U.S. At 8 p.m. on Sat., Oct. 1, Ryan will be in concert at the Presbyterian Church, 240 Southern
Blvd., Chatham, NJ 07928.
Call 973-376-4946 or visit www.sanctuaryconcerts.org for more details.